Lots of cars are reliable. Lots of cars aren’t reliable. A lot of British and German cars fall into the not-so-reliable category. My uncle can attest to that with the fact that his 2001 Jaguar XK8 has spent about half of its life in the shop. On the other side of reliability, another one of my uncles had an Audi Quattro for something like 10 years, and he never had any reliability issues. My dad’s had trouble with his 2003 GMC Sierra 2500 HD with the Duramax diesel engine. My 2003 Chrysler Town & Country is just a few hundred miles away from hitting 200,000 miles, and it’s been one of the most reliable cars that I’ve ever seen. Anyhow, the basic premise of this blog post is to tell you the top 10 cars that we all love, even if they were (or still are) lemons.
- 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster: The 996-generation Porsche 911 was the first Porsche to ever have a water-cooled engine. For Porschephiles, that’s the equivalent of the Pope converting to Buddhism. The 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster had a teeny, weeny, little problem with their engines where the faulty intermediate shafts could fail, turning a fine sports car into a very expensive paperweight. Even after enough owner complaints, Porsche started fixing the problem, but only on a case-by-case basis, which meant that many owners were left out to dry unfairly. It’s easily one of the largest black spots in Porsche history, which is a true shame, because these cars were otherwise some very nice drives.
- 2001-2003 Subaru WRX: The first Subaru WRX to be offered in the U.S. had a massive problem with the transmission. The five-speed manuals were extremely fragile, and the tuner-friendly engine often meant that the tiny boxer four-cylinder engine was tuned to within an inch of its life. All Subarus have problems with their head gasket, but the 2001-2003 WRX often gave its head gasket up before it even reached 100,000 miles. I can forgive all of this, because aside from these two problems, it’s a reliable daily driver that’s a LOT of fun. The purity of these WRX’s means that your inner Swedish rally driver fantasies can come true.
- 1993-1995 Mazda RX-7: One of the last rotary-powered cars (the last was the Mazda RX-8), the Mazda RX-7 was a true driver’s car. However, apex seal failure hangs over every owner’s head like a cloud. Apex seal failure means a complete engine rebuild or replacement if the car is not maintained at the proper intervals. The massive amounts of premium fuel and oil going into the engine didn’t help matters, either. Still, the 3rd-generation Mazda RX-7 is an amazing driver’s car. Plus, many owners say that there’s truly nothing like spooling up the second sequential turbocharger. Mazda had made the RX-7 with two turbochargers – one for the lower rev range only, and the other for the upper rev range only. It’s been a long, long time since the last RX-7 was built, and I really hope that Mazda gets their act together and builds an RX-9.
- 1999 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra: This was a one-model-year special put on by Ford, and it was supposed to be a drag racing special for the street. However, it didn’t take long for enthusiasts, mainly drag racers, to figure out that it was making WAY less than the 320 horsepower that Ford advertised. Ford traced the problem to aluminum residue in the intake and exhaust systems. Ford did well by fixing the problem free of charge. However, the public snafu on Ford’s part caused Ford to drop production of the SVT Cobra after just one model year. The upside is that there are no other reliability problems with the SVT Cobra Mustang. Because it’s a single-model-year special-edition Mustang, it’s got potential to be a future classic. Don’t be intimidated if you see one for sale with lots of modifications – Ford designed this car to be tuner-friendly. Just make sure that there’s good documentation of the car.
- 2008-2010 Nissan GT-R: Like many supercars, the Nissan GT-R came with launch control. The difference was that the launch control function could potentially blow up the transmission and void the warranty, leaving the unlucky owner with a $20,000 repair bill. Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit in Decemer 2010, and the launch control was dialed back on 2011-up models. It’s impossible not to love the GT-R and it’s mind-altering ability to be an absolute freight train on race tracks of any kind, just avoid the hard launches.
- 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S: Anybody who was (or is) an owner of the 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S felt more like a beta tester for a video game than anything else. Here’s the relatively short list of, uh, ‘bugs:’ Electric power steering pumps that could catch fire, supercharger failure after just 80,000 miles, and head gaskets that seemed to be timed to blow up as soon as the warranty expired. Despite it being a sub-$20,000 car new (and used), it’s got maintenance costs of a 2001-2005 Porsche 911 or Boxster (see #1 on this list for reference). If you can forgive those faults, the handling is some of the best this world has ever seen.
- 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia: Most mid-engine Ferrari’s have a wholly undeserved reputation for spontaneous combustion. However, with the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia, the argument was valid. The adhesive bonding between the wheelwell and the engine heat shield would melt and catch fire. Reports vary, and if Ferrari is to be believed, only 11 cars were affected by this. All 1248 Ferrari 458 Italias sold until that point were recalled. Ferrari still claims that this only happened during hard driving, but asking owners of Ferraris to not drive their car hard is laughable. After the concerns of owners becoming BBQ, the Ferrari 458 Italia once again ascended to its rightful place as the best mid-engine car the world has ever seen.
- 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD: These things are supposed to be bulletproof, right? Think again. The fuel injection systems on the Duramax diesel-engine trucks are notorious for the fuel injectors cracking. My dad has a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD, and the engine’s been rebuilt something like 4 times. If you buy one of these vehicles, make sure to get it with the LQ4 6.0-liter V8. The Allison 1000 heavy-duty transmissions will go over 150,000 miles without trouble. Just DON’T get it with the Duramax! Not only are engine rebuilds expensive, but they are frequent. If you buy one, make sure you find one with good documentation, as many of these were used for hauling and towing, both of which put phenomenal stress on the engine and transmission.
- 1996-2005 Volkswagen Passat: This was the infamous era of VW unreliability. The B5-generation of the Passat had steering problems – the rack-and-pinion assembly was prone to stripping, which means no steering. When it stripped, it would burn out the power booster, which means that other parts are brought into the mix. Volkswagen made a lot of these cars, and some of them are good. Other family sedans are good choices.
- 2003 Land Rover Freelander: This is quite possibly one of THE most unreliable vehicles EVER! It was quite simply bad. The engine was bad, the cheap interior fell apart after just a few thousand miles, and forget replacing parts for it. The replacement parts were usually just as bad as the stock parts. Avoid this car at ALL costs!
10 thoughts on “10 Cars That You Just Have to Love, Even if They Were Lemons”
Ok, thanks for the pictures. Now I can see the lemonade with these particular lemons.
The 1999 Mustang Cobra gets my vote. I have one please!
If you can find one, you are most welcome to buy it!…for me
You left out the 1970 Plymouth Valiant i bought and the headliner came away from the rear window when i drove up to my house….and it was downhill from there. No wonder the Japanese car makers came and ate the U. S. makers for lunch.
Wow…sounds like you had some, er, fun with that car!
You never mentioned my all time reliable 2011 Nissan. Not as cool as my Jag’s but so much more reliable. Of course, this car is way too vanilla for you, the car Hippster!
Your old Grranny.
Grandma, I’d never think of including a RELIABLE car in a list of lemons! What your Jag didn’t have in the reliability factor, it made up for in the cool factor. I don’t think that your Nissan is vanilla – why else would I write a blog post on it?
I loved my Sierra – when it wasn’t in the shop!!
Yes, everybody knows that!